Sunday, 30 July 2017

Sighs too Deep for Words

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 
And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:26-39)

Got stuck on the M1 yesterday. There was a crash between 13 and 14. Everything southbound was held up as they cleared the cars and debris from two lanes and got everything on the hard shoulder. Everything northbound was held up as people did so much rubbernecking, they brought the carriageway to a halt. All in all, everybody had an extra 40 minutes on their journey. I'll be honest. The feeling I had after half an hour that my life was at an end was a bit of an over-reaction. You know, despair is not designed for dealing with 40 minute delays. But we tend to do that, don't we?

Paul was writing out of a situation which we don't face. Sporadic persecutions, occasional legal - or illegal action that ended in the deaths of Christians. He's hunted from time to time, beaten with sticks, stoned. And not in a good way.

And yet he writes in this passage from Romans about God's closeness to us. And God's closeness in three different ways. But of course, God being triune, the three ways work constantly together.

First the Spirit. We don't all have fancy words for prayer. We can't all write collects for the Church of England for a living. And you know some people can pray for hours without ever getting much beyond "we just really want to say we loved you." And some are in such despair that all they can do is cry. But those who are Christians have the Spirit to do the praying with and for us. The Spirit searches our hearts - finds our deepest prayers - and takes them to the Father in prayers beyond our prayers.

Now this is really good news. After all, the Spirit inspired the Psalms. So the Spirit is really good at prayer. If what the Father needs to hear from you is a really well-crafted prayer, the Spirit can do that for you. If all you can manage are sobs, or silence, or tongues, the Spirit will wrap that into a tapestry of prayer for God - too profound for the human heart to utter. With sighs too deep for words.

And then Jesus, the Son of God. That Jesus who lived on earth for us. Who died for us. Who knows what it is to be a human - who carries our frailty, who inhabited our weaknesses. Who died and rose again.

That Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father and sticks his oar in for us. He's not just up in heaven looking serene and counting angels. Which are countless anyway. So he'd be wasting his time. If time were even a thing in heaven. But I digress.

But if you're thinking God has deserted you - you're feeling a long way off - if you're thinking you've deserted God - Jesus is there for you. Not dragging you along like you're living out the famous tea towel, "Footprints." But saying to his Father - "yes, she's angry. But she's tired. Yes he's in a dark place. We need to be there with him. She's under pressure - she's suffering persecution or just being pressured or harassed or ridiculed for being part of God's family - she's being made in my image."

God can seem a long way off. For all of us, Christians, unbelievers or others - it's easy to assume we are just hopeless, lost. That things are meaningless. I loved Frankie Boyle's definition of us as a bunch of slightly evolved monkeys, clinging to a dying rock. Which is, after all, true. But deep in the image that God gave us, the image of Jesus into which we are constantly being renewed, we keep hearing whispers that that's not all we are.

Whatever we may think, whatever our perspective. Whether we're high on God's love or our own genius, or deep in a mental or spiritual hole, nothing can separate us from God's love. That jealous, anxious, worrying, forgiving, embracing, open love that forgives everything and hopes everything. Like a parent over a sickly child, or one waiting for their son or daughter to come home long after time - like the prodigal's father who looks from the window and runs to see his child - that's how the love of God is.

Paul writes from the point of view of a persecuted church, and he could think the world's against him and God has forgotten them. But instead he pushes on to share the Gospel, well aware that if you follow Jesus's path, it leads to a cross.

And he does it because he knows what the Spirit wants to bring to us, what Jesus enthroned at the side of Majesty constantly prays for, what the whole Trinity works together to give us:

Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.


  1. Thank you for that beautiful explanation.

  2. We may be a bunch of slightly evolved monkeys but the stuff we are made from includes the stuff of stars of distant galaxies blown here on the solar wind.....we are indeed loved....
    Can I thank you for your blog, an oasis of sense in a world of twisted thinking....and fun too!

    1. Glad it's fun. That's why I do it!


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